Ryan Gander: When Fictions and Realities Collide in a Leap of Faith


Sometimes you cannot fight it because you are part of it – (Alchemy box #35), 2016 Installation with a tactical combat backpack, Velcro board with embroidered patches. Board: 48 x 60 in (121 x 152 cm) Backpack: 8 x 22 x 3 in (57 x 40 x 10 cm) Variable dimensions of the whole installation Unique piece.

London-based conceptual artist Ryan Gander masters the art of storytelling through an immensely complex, yet subtly coherent body of work. In the short time since Gander graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University (1999), his work has been shown in the most enviable institutions worldwide: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Australia (2015); Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France (2012); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico (2012); Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA (2010). He has also shown in group exhibitions such as the Shanghai Biennale, China (2012); documenta 13, Kassel, Germany (2012); 54th Venice Biennale, Italy (2011); the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2010), Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain (2010), Miami Art Museum, Miami (2009), MACBA, Spain (2009) and New Museum, New York (2009).

While his multimedia practice encompasses a vast array of forms, interviewing elements of architecture, design, sculpture and city planning, as well as children’s books, language and performance; all of his works revolve around the nature of art and objects. Ryan Gander’s complex and unfettered conceptual practice is stimulated by queries, investigations or what-ifs, rather than strict rules or limits. The misleadingly minimalist appearance of Gander’s world disguises a complex network of tangled narratives. Each one of his objects may act as a vessel for a new story that collectively fit into a greater system in which fictions and realities collide.

In his series Alchemy Boxes, Gander considers that art is in the content that cannot be seen, whilst the case or vessel is merely camouflage. Made from common elements, the Alchemy Boxes include personal articles from the artist relating to the theme of associative thinking methods, collage, montage and unintended and unchartered collisions of ideas. This series is an experiment with the audience’s trust and belief: the receptacle is sealed and contains some objects, which are revealed to the audience in a list displayed on a nearby wall. The only way to know if the objects are really in the case is to open it, and thereby destroy the repository.



For example, Adrastus Collection’s most recent acquisition Sometimes you cannot fight it because you are part of it – (Alchemy box #35) (2016) is the assemble of an alchemy box masquerading as a black tactical combat backpack one may associate with a special operations patron of the armed forces. The backpack is locked with a Bluetooth padlock and contains objects from the collection of the artist. These have been specifically selected to fit the themes of being absent from ones usual surroundings, and cultural and political certainty as a creative restraint. The objects within are individually listed on Velcro backed embroidered patches and are fastened to a large black Velcro sheet attached to the wall nearby. The following is a list of the backpack’s content:

  • A 6 cm tall glass bottle with a plastic screw top containing 10 ml of Ho Wood essential oil, the smell of which conjures an uncanny memory in the artist from his childhood of something to do with carpet and a white plastic ice cream tub.
  • A new boxed pair of Apples latest model of iPod earphones with Remote and Microphone launched Sept 2012, used once by the artist but unwanted as they did not seem to fit the shape of the cavity of his ear.
  • A plastic laminate standardized eye chart for testing sight produced by Grahamfield in the US measuring 28 x 64 cm, made up of a series of different sized letters, as well as red and green coloured bars, that are visible between a range of 3.05 metres and 61 metres.
  • A Tomtom GO 940 Live satellite navigation system with dock and car charging cable loaded with a complete map for the entirety of Europe last updated by the artist at some point during May 2010. The system contains a complete itinerary of the destinations visited by the artist during a four-year period.
  • A Wish Book lent to the artist by his Japanese gallerist Taro Nasu, containing numerous men’s personal sundries available for sale from the Isetan department store in Ginza, Tokyo.
  • A standard sized colour postcard showing images of ‘The beautiful Suffolk Coast’ incorporating images of Lowestoft, Southwold, Woodbridge, The River Blyth and Aldeburgh. On the reverse of the postcard the words ‘Seabld, tabags, milk, hobnobs, binbags, call Simon T.’ have been handwritten in black ink by the artist.
  • A 10 x 15 cm colour photograph of a screenshot from an Apple Iphone whilst displaying an image from the internet of a beautiful young girl wearing sunglasses that are a single black rectangle measuring approximately 28 x 10 cm that totally censor the models gaze from the viewer.
  • A plastic bag measuring 25 x 10 cm containing E-Z Water produced by Woodland Scenics of Linn Creek, MO, US. The substance inside the bag appears to be small off white semi translucent plastic beads, tat when heated become soluble and can be poured and allowed to set to represent water in the making of model railway scenery. Purchased in a Modelzone in Chester, Cheshire by the artist for £11:50.
  • A gaffa taped tea towel parcel on which the words ‘Very Sharp Rusty Sushi Knife’ have been written by hand with a permanent marker pen. The knife gifted by a Taro Nasu the artist Japanese gallerist has been caught up in the superstition of the artists psychic embroiled with the notion that friends should not offer one another sharp objects as gifts and the guilt of the deterioration of the blade by the artist, that should have been treated with great care and respect.
  • A blank envelope of hotel stationary acquired form the Sheraton Hotel Hiroshima, Japan, containing a bank sheet of writing paper from The Chester Grosvenor and Spa Hotel.
  • An A4 inkjet colour printout of a stock image from the internet of a woman holding her hand up, palm out towards the camera to shield her face from being captured. The hand of the woman has been traced as an outline in thick black marker pen with a badly executed line.
  • An invitation to the Royal Academy of Arts to a reception of a Manet Exhibition on the evening of Tuesday 22 January 2013. The dress code for the event in ‘Lounge Suit’. Previously when the artist attended a function of this nature his friend Phil Mayer was propositioned by a man wearing a jacket of which only three were made, allegedly the other two being tailored for ‘Mick and John’.


There is also a GPS tracker attached to the rucksack enabling the artist to locate the artwork at any time.

Acting as a self-portrait, Sometimes you cannot fight it because you are part of it – (Alchemy box #35) (2016) is a way in which Gander asserts that the things that surround us, also define us.

Ryan Gander, born in Chester in 1976, lives and works in London and has been awarded numerous prestigious prizes, among others the Zürich Art Prize (2009), the ABN Amro Art Price (2006), the Baloise Art Statements of the Art Basel (2006) and the Dutch Prix de Rome for sculpture (2003).